Fostering Inclusion through STEM A conversation with Mary Smith
Education is one of the most important and effective ways of developing inclusion and empowerment. I’m a lifelong learner, and I actively pursue involvement opportunities concerning educational access and inclusion; as such, the Alzenia Project is committed to providing opportunities for positive impact and fulfillment that can fuel social change, especially in education. We are passionate about connecting people and ideas, and part of our mission is to support organizations that share the same values as we do. One such organization that has become one of our grantees is the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation, which promotes, sponsors, supports, and trains Native American girls and women around the country in the STEM field. We sat down with the foundation’s founder, Mary Smith, to explore the background of their organization and our partnership.
The goal of the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation is to increase the number of Native American Women in the STEM fields, which they do by supporting young girls and women interested in STEM. Mary, who herself has a background in STEM, named the foundation after her mother and grandmother, respectively: “They’re both inspirations to me, two strong women who had amazing lives and always encouraged me, but who did not have as many opportunities as they should’ve due to the times they lived in.” Her grandmother, Ora Mae Pallone, grew up in a family of 16 children, but only 10 of them survived past the age of three due to the lack of adequate healthcare for Native Americans. Learning about this experience motivated Mary to attend law school and accept an opportunity to become the chief executive of the Indian Health Service, which provides healthcare to millions of Native Americans around the country.
Her experience in STEM and healthcare showed Mary just how important it is for more Native Americans to go into science fields—“It is so important to have providers in the community who are part of the community and can build trust and promote preventative care, and I just want to create opportunities for Native American women and girls that they might not otherwise feel is available to them.”
The Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation gives Native American women and girls the opportunity to make a difference by fostering inclusion through STEM scholarship, which is perfectly aligned with the Alzenia Project’s goal to help young women of color achieve personal and professional growth. Our partnership will help so many girls develop their interests in STEM and have experiences they never would’ve had otherwise. “We’re really grateful to be partnered with the Alzenia Project,” Mary reflects, “and we love their mission of supporting organizations that help so many different groups of people.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, Mary recalled a story from a girl who the foundation has impacted. “Our summer camp went to Brookfield Zoo, where there’s a large sculpture of a gorilla cupping his arms. One little girl in our program climbed up into and laid back in the gorilla’s arms—I’ll never forget the look of pure joy on her face.” We asked Mary about future plans for the foundation, and she says they have no shortage of ideas. “I’m hopeful that in the coming years we’ll have widespread collaborations to help Native American women and girls all over the country.” Together, the Alzenia project and the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation’s focus on developing educational access and fostering inclusion will help empower girls across America to reach their highest potential.